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New Super Mario Bros. (DS)

Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo

Genre: Platformer Release Date: May 15, 2006

ESRB: Everyone

The release of New Super Mario Bros. is a fairly important one in the history of videogames. Consider this: since the release of Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins for the Game Boy in 1992, there has not been a new 2D platform game, the genre that the original Super Mario Bros. helped define, starring Nintendo's beloved plumber.

Sure, there have been remakes and re-releases of past Mario games galore, including the Super NES's Super Mario All-Stars and the Super Mario Advance series for GBA and a few 3D adventures like the N64's Super Mario 64 and the GameCube's Super Mario Sunshine, but no new adventure in the classic "Mario style." And no, Yoshi's Island doesn't count (excellent though it may be) since you played as Yoshi through the bulk of the game.

That's nearly a decade and a half without a "true" Mario game. Until now. Nintendo has finally decided that it's time to create another side-scrolling Mario title and has christened it with the perhaps too descriptive title, New Super Mario Bros.. New SMB brings Mario and company back to the Mushroom Kingdom for another quest to rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser and his son, Bowser Jr. Considering how much of a throwback this game is to the classic titles in the series, I have to admit that I was disappointed to see the comparatively dull Bowser Jr. appear as one of the main bad guys instead of Bowser's seven other offspring, the Koopa Kids from Super Mario Bros. 3.

Don't be fooled by the 3D character models. The polygonal characters are simply a way to allow more animation without having to draw a buttload of sprites. The backgrounds and gameplay are purely 2D, and the 2D and 3D elements blend together perfectly.

Super Mario's Worlds

The action is spread across eight worlds, each containing several levels each. Although the game's control physics feel more like the original Super Mario Bros. than later games in the series, the world map and level design take a cue from the more involved SMB 3. If you're afraid that Nintendo has forgotten that one of the best things about the old Mario games was the seemingly infinite number of hidden secrets, then you can stop worrying. In addition to all the good old block busting, Goomba stomping, Fire Flower collecting, and flag pole sliding that you'd expect to see in a 2D Mario title, there are also plenty of invisible blocks to uncover and hidden vines that, when revealed, will allow you to access new areas of a level.

Seeing as how you can replay stages you've already cleared, you'll definitely want to go back and do a lot of extra exploring. Each world's map screen shows off multiple paths and levels that you won't be able to access your first time through. Think about this: The first time I played through the game, without even using a warp zone, I completely skipped over two worlds. Not levels… worlds. Specifically, worlds four and seven. Now, I have to go back and find the secret exits that will open up those unexplored lands to me. Those are some pretty hardcore secrets.

So there's a lot that's familiar in New Super Mario Bros., but you'll find plenty of new surprises as well. In addition to all his old SMB moves, Mario has retained some of his more recent abilities. You'll now be able to use the ground pound to break blocks from above (try using it on blocks that contain multiple coins), triple jump for extra height, and perform a wall jump to scale vertical passages.

Fungus Among Us

Additionally, there are a couple of new mushrooms growing in the Mushroom Kingdom that affect Mario's growth in strange new ways. Mini Mushrooms shrink our hero down to travel size, allowing him to run across the surface of water and enter miniature pipes. The problem is at this size, he's unable to stomp any enemies. The Mega Mushroom's effect is shown on the front of the game's box -- it causes Mario to grow to nearly the size of one of the DS' screens, making him not only invincible, but capable of crashing through any obstacle in his path. During the brief period that the mushroom lasts, a damage meter shows how much of the environment you've destroyed. The more you crush, the more 1ups you earn when the effect wears off.

Picking up a blue Koopa shell turns the plumber into Shell Mario. When Shell Mario runs, he curls up into the shell and plows through anything in his path. Unfortunately, Mario becomes difficult to control at this high speed, so you probably won't be using this power for extended bursts. This new power-up is pretty cool, but it pales next to SMB 3's Hammer Bros. suit. I also missed the ability to fly that was granted by that game's raccoon tail.

Each stage contains three special Star Coins that are often located in difficult-to-reach places. Tracking down these coins is worth your time as they're used to open up pathways to side levels and Toad Houses. Inside Toad Houses, you'll earn new power-ups and extra lives, which are always handy to have around.

Go Do The Mario

On the whole, the game isn't overly difficult. Towards the end, there are some tricky levels, but never to the point where you become too frustrated. The game is also quite generous with 1ups during the first half of the game, so you should have a decent stockpile of lives going by the time you get to the tough stuff. The real challenge, as I mentioned before, is finding every secret path and item that the game has to offer. You may plow through the game in a few hours, but you'll spend weeks (and maybe months) truly solving it.

Even if you do complete the entire game, there are a few extra modes to keep you occupied for even longer. There's a two-player mode where you compete with a buddy to collect five stars. Playing as both Mario and Luigi, you run though a handful of unique levels, racing to collect the stars before your opponent. Even if you're beaten to a star, you can knock the stars out of your foe's hands by attacking them with fireballs, Bob-ombs, and more.

This mode is quite a bit of fun, but the limited number of stages means that it won't hold your interest for too long. There is also a selection of touch-screen driven mini-games like those featured in Super Mario 64 DS. These are definitely fun, but it's disappointing that many of them were already featured in Mario's DS debut game.

Some people might complain that the DS's bottom screen goes mostly unused in New SMB. For the most part, this is true. Other than a few underground segments that play out on the touch screen, it's merely used to show a progress bar of your trip through each level, a display of which Star Coins you've found, and a storage area for an emergency power-up. Still, since this is supposed to be a classic-style Mario adventure, I'd rather see the screen used in this way instead of having gimmicky stages that span both screens.

If Nintendo wanted to be really retro, it would release an NES-colored DS Lite and include this game as a pack-in. Since that's probably not going to happen, everyone will just have to buy New Super Mario Bros. separately. And buy it you should -- it's easily one of the best titles available for the DS. Super Princess Peach was a solid platformer, but it was just a warm up for the real deal here. And now with Yoshi's Island 2 on the way, it looks like quality Nintendo platformers may be the new WWII first-person shooters.

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